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Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant Adopts RuBee RFID to Track Tools, Chemicals

The plant is also using the technology for tracking weapons in its armory, while beginning to install it at its health-care center.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 18, 2011After five years of testing auto-ID technology solutions, including various RFID, infrared, acoustic and optical tracking systems, nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly company B & W Pantex has selected a RuBee low-frequency RFID system to capture data about the use of tools and chemicals in its Amarillo, Texas, facility known as the Pantex Plant. Pantex provides its highly sensitive services for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. The system that has been piloted for the past five years is provided by Visible Assets.

Visible Assets developed the active tags and readers, as well as the RuBee air-interface protocol (complying with the IEEE 1902.1 standard) that they employ to communicate with each other. The system is designed for environments in which data must be transmitted around metal and liquids, and also must be highly secured against eavesdropping or other security threats.

The weapons facility's five years of testing, known as the Advanced Inventory and Materials Management (AIMM) pilot, focused on finding a safe and effective technology for tracking of tools and chemicals as they are used for the assembly and disassembly of nuclear weapons. The plant has also been using Visible Assets' technology to identify and manage firearms that security guards check out and return to the plant's armories. The RuBee system is also being installed for tracking patients in the facility's health-care center where security guards can be examined and treated to ensure they are in optimal health before they are permitted to use firearms.

Visible Assets' RuBee technology transmits a 132 kHz low-frequency signal, which, like 124 kHz LF and 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) RFID technology, relies mostly on the magnetic portion of an electromagnetic wave, rather than the electronic component. The advantage to using RuBee technology is it operates in environments where UHF technology has traditionally struggled, including in heavy metal areas. While it is more reliable around metal and has a read range up to 100 feet, it can have a slower read rate than higher frequency RFID solutions, says Visible Assets' CEO, John Stevens. However the greatest concern for Pantex and similar customers of the technology is security. While HF or UHF RFID or Wi-Fi transmissions could theoretically be vulnerable to eavesdroppers, even if encrypted, the RuBee transmission will not leak out of a building because of its very low frequency, and therefore could not be intercepted by third parties.

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